Jackie Delamatre, presently an educator at the Rhode Island School of Design and formerly with the Guggenheim and MOMA, hits the nail on the head in her 2015 guest blogpost on museumquestions.com. She laments that gallery tours are not encouraging life-long visitors and should refocus their goals. Some might say “no brainer”, others might mime Homer Simpson and utter "DUH!” My response is an emphatic “YESS!” So, what is the underlying issue here from an interpretive experience standpoint? Can’t we just rely on marketing incentives and rotating exhibits to keep ‘em coming back?
On several occasions one of Jackie’s exiting school visitors would respond to her encouraging “Come back and see us” request with, "But will YOU be here?" This sparked an epiphany of sorts for Jackie to revisit her institution’s goals. She questioned why they were not providing visitors with the life skill tools that would encourage a visit to the galleries on their own?
In other self-guiding interpretive situations it is the same reimagining process we need to consider. For example, how about thinking like...
- A personal trainer on a nature trail to assist visitors to practice their observational, auditory and olfactory prowess? This would create an enhanced health-inducing, stress-relieving outing.
- A detective to search for clues at historic sites to discover characteristics of the space? This would allow visitors to reach across time and touch the past.
These are the DIY (Do-It-Yourself) experiences that we at EID aim for. We believe that heightening visitor skills and aiding visitors to practice their new observational and exploratory skills is the foundation for an effective interpretive role. It is all about setting the visitor up for success at guided discovery. Too often the fallback position is information when it should be invitation.
We believe our job is to:
- Establish the framework,
- Set up the age appropriate “adventure”,
- Provide the props, and
- Steer participants along.
For example, if empathy is the outcome desired, then staging the role playing of a character from the past, a resident animal or plant, or an artist (of a certain temperament and life perspective) could be designed. We must move out of the educator-directed role way more often and use this model only for very specific reasons.
We are advocating for a rethink of the interpreter role as definitely less "sage on the stage" and more a "slice of guide on the side", where the guide role is seen as coach and facilitator. We should be seen primarily as an experience catalyst; only as a communication specialist if our expertise doesn’t get in the way.
When Jackie wonders why we continue to replicate the teacher-directed classroom approach in tours, I am reminded that this model is not restricted only to tours but still commonly used in non-personal interpretation (exhibit labels, trail signage, etc.). And we wonder why people don’t read didactic, lesson-imbued text? Graphics are helpful but still somewhat lipstick on a pig.
She brings up the idea of question prompts being supplied as you enter the art gallery to generate emotional response, creative response, judgement or pure observation. Why don’t we have these for different galleries or for every art piece?
A relatively simple form of guided discovery can be seen next to this image of a Hindu artifact. Instead of a traditional artifact text label, one could use arrows on a drawing of the artifact to guide the visitor’s eyes to significant details not readily seen. Once you get the visitor exploring the artifact they are bound to discover other intricacies on their own which is the beginning of the appreciative journey. Our role is not only to help the visitor know how to look and what to look for, but also comprehend “Why am I looking at this object, and how does it connect to me?”
More on "A Slice of Guide on the Side" from Bill coming later this week.